To greet Koreans in Korean as a non-Korean is always a sure fire way to elicit surprise and a bit of cultural cool points. It doesn’t matter how much I mangle the pronunciation or use the improper honorific or fail to conjugate the verb, it never fails to please at some level.
Trying to speak someone’s language is a sign of respect, especially for people whose chief aim is to assimilate as much and as quickly as possible to the dominant culture. It indicates that you value them, or at least care enough to recognize that they are not altogether like you, and that this is a good thing.
As a Christian, trying to speak another language is a discipline of humility since it reduces my normally fluid command of language to sounding like a stammering two year old. There’s nothing like having a 5 year old correct your grammer for deflating your ego.
In some ways, I think of Jesus as I struggle to learn another language and culture. After all Jesus crossed the largest barrier of culture possible – from heaven to earth, in order to reach us. Do we get as excited about his efforts to reach across that divide? Or better yet, do we expect non-believers to assimilate before we reach them? How might our world be different if more of us were willing to struggle to learn the language of the non-Christian culture around us? How might theirs?